Magazine article The Spectator

Growing Friendship

Magazine article The Spectator

Growing Friendship

Article excerpt

I used to see Tom now and again at the local gym. I'd be on the treadmill and he'd be in front of the mirror lifting weights. He was already big then, but he was all chest and shoulders and no legs and the disproportion looked ridiculous. Broad at the top, he seemed to taper down to a point. Also, his shoulders were too high, too level and too immobile. One day this inverted triangle with blond hair flopping over a spotty schoolboy face spoke to me.

He appeared on the next treadmill and said he'd just been outside to do some sprints on the football pitch, but abandoned the idea because there was too much dogs' excrement underfoot. His soft voice and careful enunciation surprised me.

My dislike of this local gym - the too-cold air-con, the tinny rap music, the lazy, narcissistic attendants, just to name a few bones of contention - intensified to the point where I stopped going there and went instead to a gym ten miles further away. About three months later, I began seeing Tom here, too.

He was now about one third as big again, and the disproportion between top and bottom even more marked. His acne was worse, too. The inflamed spots on the upper slopes of his back were as big as five pence pieces. He was always downstairs, sweating with the lads in the weights' room, while I prefer to be upstairs on the treadmills and crosstrainers with the ladies. But one day our paths crossed in the changing room and he told me how he had also given up trying to like our local gym, and now caught the bus out to here.

That was how we became acquainted.

We saw ourselves as a pair of refuseniks.

Whenever I bumped into him after that we would stop and have five minutes of hate of our local gym, scornfully listing its failings.

He was amused and a little shocked by the vehemence of my condemnation, I think, because until then he'd always seen me as a quiet, undemonstrative type of person.

One day he asked me for a lift home, and on the way he told me about himself. Two years ago he had been anorexic, he said. He was much more attractive to the opposite sex when he was thin. He could go to a party and take his pick. There was no doubt about it, he preferred himself as an anorexic. …

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